Bind the Soul (Steel & Stone Book 2) by Annette Marie

“Piperel.”

  “Go away,” she choked.

  A moment of silence before he moved. His footsteps approached and stopped beside her. She tensed, expecting the explosion to happen at any second. Instead, his voice was quiet and neutral when he spoke. Maybe even slightly kind.

  “Come on, Piperel. Let’s go home.”

  She looked up, brow wrinkled. He lightly touched her elbow, guiding her into motion in the same direction Micah had gone.

  “But—”

  “We won’t talk about anything tonight,” he interrupted. She struggled to read his tone. “We can discuss what happened in the morning.”

  She sniffled. “Father, I—”

  “I know, Piperel. I know what Miysis is. Why do you think I’ve been warning you for years about daemons?”

  She wiped away a stray tear, still unsure if she was picking up on sympathy or disapproval from him. Maybe a bit of both. She opened her mouth to ask him how he’d found her—

  Screams erupted from the ballroom.

  Piper and Quinn spun to face the light at the end of the hall. Somewhere beyond, a man shouted angrily and a woman wailed.

  “What’s going on?”

  Quinn’s face was grim. “Four people have collapsed in the last twenty minutes. They suspect an assassin.”

  “An assassin here?”

  “Yes. We need to go.”

  “Okay,” she whispered, eyes wide.

  No wonder he’d come to find her. Wasn’t security supposed to be too good for anything like that to happen? The screams suggested at least one more guest had collapsed—or worse. She hurried her steps. At the end of the hall, an emergency exit led to a barren, industrial stairway that opened straight outside. As they stepped into the fresh night air, surprising four security guards, she could only feel relieved to be free. All things considered, she wouldn’t be asking to attend the Amity Gala next year.

  . . .

  The car ride was silent. She stared out the window. She probably should have been worrying about assassins running unchecked around the gala, but all she could think about was Ash. She’d always scoffed at his gloomy manner, believing it to be some sort of affectation. Now it made a lot more sense why she’d never seen him laugh. Urgency pounded in the back of her head but there was nothing she could do right that minute. She needed to rally all the support she could get. Saving Ash—and his sister—would take some serious planning. Lyre might have a better idea where to start.

  She found some tissue paper and a bottle of water to scrub the mascara off her cheeks while the car rumbled through the dark city. Quinn stared straight ahead, his jaw tight.

  Piper hesitated before breaking the silence. “Do you know who collapsed?”

  He glanced over. “Three Overworld daemons and a politician with Overworld sympathies.” A pause. “One of the daemons was Miysis’s cousin.”

  Her eyes widened. “Poisoned?”

  “Most likely.”

  She swallowed. “Who could have done it?”

  She rubbed her bruised wrist. If slime like Micah could get in, she supposed an assassin could too.

  “Without proof, it will be anyone’s guess.”

  “It was probably Samael,” she said darkly.

  Quinn gave her a sideways look. “Why?”

  “Because he hates Overworld daemons, doesn’t he? Especially the Ra family. They forced him to give up the Sahar.”

  Before the attack on the Consulate five weeks ago, the Hades and Ra families had agreed to seal the Sahar away where no one could have it. So much for that plan.

  “A man like Samael isn’t going to send out assassins in petty revenge,” Quinn said. “One should always be cautious when it comes to ruling families, but there’s no reason to throw accusations around. Samael participated in the negotiations over the Stone as equally as the Ra family did.”

  “You met him?”

  “No. He sent representatives.”

  “Well, he also arranged to steal the Sahar before it could be locked away, so he wasn’t negotiating in good faith.”

  “I have every reason to believe the Ras made similar arrangements. Samael merely acted first. Neither of them wanted to give up the Sahar.”

  “But—”

  “That is why I had several fake Sahars created well in advance. If my plans hadn’t been disrupted by the Gaians’ attack, I’m certain I would have succeeded in sealing the Stone—much to the Hades’ and Ra’s dismay.” He sighed rather wistfully.

  “You don’t think Samael is evil?” she asked slowly.

  “No more than any other daemon ruler. They are all ambitious, greedy, and power-hungry. But I could say the same about the humans in power here.”

  Piper clenched her hands. “Samael is evil. Don’t you know what he does to the draconians? He keeps them as slaves.”

  “That’s a rumor.”

  “It’s true! He keeps Ash’s sister prisoner to force him to—”

  Quinn turned in his seat to face her, ignoring the bumpy ride as the driver turned onto the long gravel drive leading up to the Consulate.

  “Ash is a hired killer.” His expression was severe. “He may have helped you, but he’s a known murderer.”

  “But Samael—”

  “Pays him very well, I am sure.”

  She clamped her mouth shut, fuming.

  “You still see daemons as black and white,” he said. “Samael isn’t evil. Ash isn’t innocent. Neither is good nor moral.”

  “Ash saved my life,” she said stubbornly.

  “He did. Does that undo the lives he took before he saved yours?”

  Her stomach twisted. “He had no choice. Samael made him.”

  Quinn sighed as the car rolled to a stop. “We can discuss this later.”

  She folded her arms, scowling as he got out of the car. She slid out as well and straightened her dress as the cool night breeze swept over her. It was nearly eleven at night. She decided she would phone Lyre as soon as she got inside, and then she would sleep. She followed Quinn up the walkway. As they reached the door, a distant trill caught her attention. She looked around. Standing at the corner of the house was a dragonet-shaped shadow. Zwi trilled again, the sound demanding and urgent.

  “One sec,” she said to her father. “Zwi is calling me.”

  “Why?” he asked, frowning in the dragonet’s direction.

  “Who knows? Maybe Uncle Calder shut my window or something. I’ll go see.”

  “Hurry.”

  She nodded and trotted awkwardly in her high heels while Quinn waited on the front stoop. Zwi watched her for a second then darted around the corner and out of sight, trilling again.

  “Zwi,” she called. “Wait up.”

  She jogged around the corner. Zwi bounded ahead of her, stopping every twenty yards to check whether Piper was following. She called again, her golden eyes bright.

  “What is it?” Piper huffed.

  Zwi ran forward again, heading for the tree line that marked the edge of the Consulate’s property. The dragonet stopped right at the edge of the woods, chittering. Piper slowed as she approached. Her skin prickled.

  There was a shadow amidst the trees. She stopped three paces from the nearest trunk.

  The shadow shifted, revealing the shape of a person. A beam of moonlight fell across the side of a face.

  Piper’s heart stuttered. Her breath caught. “Ash?” she whispered.

  He gave a short nod, dark hair falling across his eyes. His gaze flicked past her as her father called to her to hurry. Elation ballooned in her chest until she could barely breathe.

  “Ash!” she gasped. “I thought—how did you get away? I—”

  His gray eyes came back to her and his lips curved in a faint smile. He looked haunted, pale, almost disturbed. What had Samael done to him? She reached for him, wanting to touch him, to make sure he was real, there, safe—finally safe. He lifted his hand to meet hers, his stare never leaving her face.

  Just before their finger
s touched, her heel sank into the soft ground. She stumbled, her gaze jerking from his face to the ground as she caught herself. Her attention landed on Zwi, standing beside Ash and watching her with equal intensity. Her gut tightened.

  That dragonet was too big to be Zwi.

  She jerked back as Ash snatched for her hand. Arms windmilling, she staggered backward, out of reach. He didn’t follow, didn’t step over the invisible property line. Just watched her. Jaw clenched, she searched for a hint, a sign. His expression didn’t change, patiently waiting. She glanced again at the dragonet.

  “Nice try, Raum,” she snarled.

  His head tilted to one side. He didn’t drop the illusion, didn’t acknowledge the truth. Doubt flickered inside her. Could this be Ash? No, the dragonet definitely wasn’t Zwi.

  “Where is Zwi?” she demanded.

  “Piperel?”

  She shot a panicked glance over her shoulder as Quinn came around the corner of the house. He spotted her—and the shadowy figure standing a few feet away. He broke into a run. In a blur of motion at her feet, the dragonet darted past her. A sudden burst of black light surrounded it.

  A full-size dragon materialized out of the dark, magical flames. The transformed dragonet flared its massive wings and roared. Quinn skidded to stop, frantically backpedalling as the dragon stalked toward him.

  “Piperel!” he yelled. “Get inside!”

  “Father!” she screamed.

  The dragon leaped for him. Quinn dove out of the way, rolled to his feet, and threw a ball of blue fire into the dragon’s face. It sloughed off the dragon’s scales without even slowing it.

  “Piper.”

  She turned back to the Ash illusion, baring her teeth. “Your voice is a dead giveaway, Raum. You’ve blown it. Call off your dragonet!”

  He watched her with Ash’s eyes. “No.”

  “You—”

  He extended a hand toward her. “Come with me, Piper. If you refuse, Nili will kill your father.”

  “You wouldn’t kill the Head Consul.” She tried to hide her panic. Behind her, the dragon roared.

  “I wouldn’t. But Ash’s maddened dragonet could. She has no master and all draconians know that a dragonet separated too long from her bonded becomes unstable.”

  “That’s not Zwi. That’s your dragonet.”

  “Who could tell? Even then, well”—he gestured at his illusion-cloaked face—“Ash was last seen at the scene of a brutal murder. Everyone knows he’s a killer and now he’s gone entirely mad.”

  “But if Ash killed the Head Consul, it would look like Samael ordered it,” she countered fiercely.

  “No. Samael will prove he gave no such orders by personally executing the murderer. A neat solution to many problems.”

  Panic squeezed her lungs. “You bastard,” she hissed.

  “Time is up.” He twitched his fingers, beckoning her. “You have to the count of three.”

  “Piperel,” Quinn shouted. “Piper, get away!”

  “One,” Raum intoned.

  The dragon snarled. The air boomed as Quinn cast an attack.

  “Two.”

  “You could just grab me,” she said through gritted teeth. “I’m standing right here. If you cared about the sanctity of the Consulate grounds, you wouldn’t be trying to kill my father on them.”

  “I could,” he agreed softly, “but Samael prefers that you willingly surrender.”

  “What? Why?”

  A shadow crossed his eyes. “Samael is a master of breaking spirits.”

  She clenched her jaw, hate pounding through her, competing with the terror she could barely control.

  Raum’s stare moved from her to the desperate fight behind her. “Three,” he said.

  Quinn bellowed in pain. Piper whirled around as the dragon drove her father into the ground. Its head reared back, jaws gaping as it took aim for his head.

  “No!” she screamed. She turned and threw herself at Raum.

  His arms locked around her. He barked a command to his dragonet. The dragon backed off her father and leaped skyward, wings beating the air with a sound like thunder. Quinn’s panicked eyes met Piper’s for an instant while Raum held her. His gaze jerked to the draconian and widened.

  “Ashtaroth,” he roared.

  “No,” Piper yelled desperately. “It’s not—”

  Raum jerked her back into the trees. Then he threw her over his shoulder and launched into a full-out sprint. She flailed furiously but his iron strength pinned her arms to her sides, holding her tightly against his shoulder. Dark trees whipped by. She screamed pointlessly, terrified and enraged.

  Others appeared, running alongside them. Raum’s four soldiers flanked them, weapons drawn and gazes scouring the shadows. One of them was the woman Piper had stabbed, healed and healthy. Raum didn’t slow, barely breaking stride to leap over obstacles. His pace didn’t change until they burst into a clearing. Raum slowed fast, skidding over the slippery grass. He flipped Piper off his shoulder and dumped her on the ground.

  She landed hard on her back, gasping. The illusion of Ash’s face shimmered and vanished. Raum’s pale blue eyes seared her, the long scar that ran from his temple to his jaw marring his cold, handsome face. He pulled up the black wrap around his neck to cover the lower half of his face. His downsized dragonet soared out of the darkness and landed on his shoulder.

  She sat up and grabbed the hem of her dress. Yanking it up, she jerked the gun from its holster and whipped it toward Raum. She pulled the trigger. The sound of the gunshot exploded through the silent night.

  In the same instant, the air sizzled with magic. The bullet hit the shield Raum cast between them. The force knocked him back a step as the bullet ricocheted into the darkness.

  Hands grabbed her arm, forcing it up before she could fire another shot. She screamed furiously as two daemon soldiers wrestled the gun from her. Another grabbed her arms and forced them behind her back. She tried to jerk free but they were too damn strong.

  Raum stepped closer and crouched to her level. Expressionless, he reached out and gripped her jaw.

  “Too late to fight,” he murmured. “You belong to Samael now.”

  “Like you?” she spat.

  The shadow crawled behind his gaze again. “Yes,” he agreed.

  His eyes darkened as tingles erupted where his hand touched her. She felt the spell seeping into her brain on a wave of drowsiness.

  “Since he is not here,” Raum murmured softly while she fought the haze creeping through her mind, “I will offer you advice on Ash’s behalf.”

  She slumped forward, her muscles going limp. Her head fell against his shoulder. He held her jaw, weaving the spell through her.

  “You cannot fight Samael with force,” he whispered. “Subtlety is your only weapon. Remember that, and you may survive.”

  Darkness crept through her vision. The world spun around her.

  “But I doubt it,” he added quietly.

  Everything went black.

  CHAPTER 8

  PIPER came awake all at once.

  She sat bolt upright before her eyes were all the way open. A room came into focus. She was sitting on a narrow bed with unbleached cotton sheets and blankets beneath her—a sharp contrast to the pristine white silk of her gown. The walls were rustic stone. The ceiling was covered in wood paneling. There were no decorations.

  She turned.

  Raum sat in a simple chair in front of the only door, watching her. She stared at him. His wavy, iridescent red hair was windswept. Dirt smudged one cheek. He’d pulled down the wrap that normally covered the lower half of his face but he was still dressed in his black fatigues with enough weapons strapped to him to outfit a small army. He had three parallel scars across the cheek opposite the one with the long, vertical scar. He studied her in silence.

  She sucked in a panicked breath. He’d kidnapped her. She’d been kidnapped. She inhaled rapidly, trying to stay calm. Her brow wrinkled. She breathed in again, carefully t
his time. The air tasted strange. Was she underground or something?

  “Where am I?” she demanded. The loudness of her voice made her flinch.

  “Does it matter?”

  Probably not. “It does to me.”

  “You are in Asphodel.”

  “The Hades estate?” She snorted. “Where am I really?”

  His mouth thinned. “I already told you.”

  “I’m not an idiot, Raum,” she snapped. “Tell me where I am.”

  He folded his arms and leaned back in his chair.

  “If you’re going to lie,” she complained, “you could at least make up something plausible.”

  She glared and crossed her arms too, grateful for something to focus on besides the terror boiling in her stomach. Asphodel. Ridiculous. The Hades estate was in the Underworld, and the pathway from Earth to the Underworld was a daemon-only dimensional doorway.

  “Samael is waiting,” Raum said tonelessly. “Are you ready?”

  “No.” She swallowed against her rising panic, ire forgotten at the mention of Samael’s name. Fear gripped her like a cold, iron claw. “He’ll kill me,” she whispered.

  “Not today,” he replied.

  She stared at him. “Are you sure?”

  “He wants something from you. Until he gets it, you live.”

  “I can’t give it to him.” Even if she knew how she’d used the Sahar, she couldn’t reveal it to Samael. She couldn’t hand over that much power to the evil bastard.

  “You should,” he said.

  “You don’t even know what it is.”

  “It doesn’t matter.”

  She wrapped her arms around herself, trembling. She’d never felt so alone.

  “Look at me.”

  Her gaze rose to meet his icy stare.

  “Do you think you’re stronger than me?” he asked softly.

  Her brow furrowed. “Obviously not.”

  “I cannot keep a secret from Samael. Neither can you. You are not strong enough to survive this world. What Samael does to daemons to make them obedient would kill you.”

  She balled her hands into fists. It didn’t stop them from shaking.

  “Whatever he wants to know, he will learn,” Raum said passionlessly. “That is the reality. There will be no rescue. There is no escape. You belong to Samael now.”

 
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